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Criminal Defense Information for Carjacking (Cal. Penal Code s. 215)

  1. What is Carjacking?
  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Carjacking?
  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Carjacking?
  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Carjacking?
  1. What is Carjacking?

    Carjacking (Cal. Pen. Code s. 215 Opens in New Window) is the theft of a motor vehicle through force or fear when either the owner is present in the vicinity of the car or someone is in the car. The carjacker need only intend to deprive the owner of the car for a brief period of time (i.e., intent to permanently deprive the owner of the use of the vehicle is not required).

  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Carjacking?

    To prove the defendant committed Carjacking, the state must show that the defendant:

    1. Took a vehicle that was not his;
    2. Took the vehicle from the immediate presence of someone who owned the car or with someone in the car;
    3. Took the vehicle without the consent of the person present;
    4. Used force or fear to take the vehicle or to keep the person from resisting; and
    5. At the time he used force or fear, intended to deprive the person of possession of the vehicle for any amount of time.
  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Carjacking?

    Carjacking is a felony. It is punished by three, five, or nine years in state prison. Cal. Pen. Code s. 215 Opens in New Window

  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Carjacking?

    To prove someone committed a crime, the state (through its prosecutors) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the crime. Therefore, defenses to any crime start with negating one or more of the elements of the crime. Additionally, some crimes allow for “affirmative” defenses which, if the defendant can prove the defense applies, will result in a verdict of “not guilty” even if the prosecutor proves the defendant met each of the elements of the crime.

    For Carjacking, convincing the jury that the prosecutor failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the car for any amount of time, the defendant used force or fear to get the vehicle, the owner or a passenger was in or around the car, etc., would be enough to get a not guilty verdict.

    If the prosecutor can prove all the elements of Carjacking, however, the defendant must prove that one or more justifications for his actions existed (i.e., it is the defendant’s burden to prove an affirmative defense). For Carjacking, some of these justifications include:

    • Permission of the owner;
    • Alibi;
    • Duress / Threats;
    • Necessity;
    • Accident;
    • Entrapment; and
    • Statute of Limitations.
See also, Emergency Vehicle Theft, Grand TheftRobbery, Vehicle Theft.